Maiko and Setsubun Through the Years, Part I

Setsubun-Maiko-2005-1
Setsubun-Maiko-2005-1

The maiko Fukuteru of Miyagawa-cho in Kyoto ascends the stage at Yasaka Shrine during Setsubun, a holiday that marks the end of winter and beginning of spring in Japan. This image was taken in 2005, the second time I photographed Setsubun. I will be posting my favorite images of maiko and geisha at Setsubun from years gone by all this month. Some of these women are no longer in the Karyukai, and there are even one or two maiko I can't identify.

During my early years photographing Setsubun, I preferred to photograph the maiko as they ascended the stage before they danced and when they descended after the performance. Part of this was purely technical; at that time, my longest lens was my 85mm, which isn't quite long enough to capture the dances. The other part was that I was taking portraits of maiko and geiko almost exclusively then, and I didn't consider images of them dancing to be portraits.

However, as I look back at photographs I made at Setsubun from 2003 - 2007 (some of which appeared in One Hundred Views of Maiko and Geiko), I'm very glad I focused on portraits. I wasn't very aware of it at the time, but the sense of tension and anticipation on the maiko's faces as they stepped onto the stage and the sense of relief when they finished dancing is palpable. There are hundreds of people packed all around the stage while the maiko dance, so these strong emotions are very understandable. And they make for some very memorable portraits! It isn't very difficult to take a decent photo of a maiko or geiko; their makeup, hair ornaments, and kimono always look good. What is more difficult is capturing their honest emotions, whatever they may be.